UHoP 2019: Q&A with Richard Bravery, art director

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

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A Graduate of Design, Illustration and Typography, Richard went on to work as a cover designer at 4th Estate, before moving to Penguin RandomHouse in 2007 as Senior Designer and was this year promoted to Art Director for Penguin General.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your work – how did you get into the publishing/art industry?

My undergrad was in illustration but I always knew that my future lay in design, it took a little while to get there – via film, and making furniture – but once I began designing book covers I knew I had found what I was looking for.

2.What does an average day at work look like?

I honestly don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day, which is great. It could be anything from art directing photo shoots, sending covers to press, reading manuscripts, chatting to editors, commissioning artists, designing, painting, hand lettering . . .

3. How has cover design and art direction changed over the course of your career – have you seen any notable changes since the rise in technology and self-publishing?

Cover design goes through trends just like any other creative industry. When I started, illustration was having a renaissance after being slightly out of favour for a long period and I was lucky to be able to ride that wave of creativity which resulted in some great work that shifted cover design into a different direction. But technology hasn’t changed a huge amount for us – A book will always need a cover whether it’s printed or digital.

4. Tell us about your creative process. How do you get a book from brief to final design?

How long do you have?! When I begin a brief I always read as much of the book as time allows to get a flavour of the writing, then I binge on imagery – doesn’t matter where it’s from or what it’s for – I guess you could call it a mood board (although I hate that term). then I ask two questions: What message do you want to convey, and who do you want to pick the book up. This helps to narrow down the ideas that will fit in and stand out in the market. After that I honestly couldn’t tell you how it all comes together on the page, I guess it’s a combination of instinct and experience.

My late friend and art director, John Hamilton always used to say; ‘design is simple, just make it look like a great piece of eye candy’, and he was right. It’s tempting to try to say too many things in a small space, and pile more and more onto the cover. At times like these he would simply say ‘congratulations, you’ve created a Dolce & Gabbana shirt’.

5. Your work involves a variety of art forms – typography, illustration (and even some carpentry) – is there a particular form that especially appeals to you?

My roots are in illustration and it has been fertile ground for me, but one of the reasons I consider myself so fortunate to work in cover design is that we aren’t limited to one way of answering a brief. The answer can literally come from anywhere; graffiti, fashion, folk art, photography, anything, and that’s exciting to me every day.

6. Is there one book cover which you have particularly enjoyed working on, or perhaps something you’re looking forward to creating?

I don’t think I have a standout favourite. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing authors and designing covers for them is a privilege. Commissioning Los Angeles based street artist, Cleon Peterson to create a cover for The Man in the High Castle was a personal highlight partly because I’d followed his work for a long time, and also because his work is so perfectly suited to the book.

7. What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Deborah Levy’s, The Man Who Saw Everything. Her memoir The Cost of Living was my book of the year, and I’m now completely hooked on her writing.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.